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Issue: "Daniel of the Year 2003," Dec. 13, 2003

Big 12 blues

If you go strictly by the record book, Nebraska's firing of Cornhuskers legend Frank Solich came one year too late. After all, wouldn't it have looked better to fire Mr. Solich after last season's 7-7 finish than this season when the Cornhuskers piled up a 9-3 record? And how about firing a coach after a win over rival Colorado? The problem for Mr. Solich was that Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson saw the Huskers going the way of Colorado-a once-powerful program fading fast. Not even a 9-3 record, or even Mr. Solich's 28 years with Nebraska as a player and coach, could save him from that charge. "I refuse to let the program gravitate into mediocrity," Mr. Pederson said. "We won't surrender the Big 12 to Oklahoma and Texas."

But Texas has its own problems, not the least of which is a four-game losing streak against rival Oklahoma. Now not even Texas coach Mack Brown is immune from criticism from Longhorns fans. The problem for coaches Solich and Brown may be OU coach Bob Stoops's success. Athletic directors around the Big 12 have watched as Mr. Stoops turned a disastrous Oklahoma program into a national championship team in two seasons. Since then the Sooner Schooner has been more like a steamroller, especially this year as Oklahoma seems headed for the national championship game. When Nebraska hired Frank Solich as the head coach in 1997, it was looking for the next Tom Osborne. With Mr. Solich out of the way, Nebraska can start looking for the next Bob Stoops.

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How will the Empire strike back?

Rarely does baseball garner much attention in the weeks after Thanksgiving, but the Boston Red Sox trade to acquire Curt Schilling was a shot across the New York Yankees' bow and, in particular, across George Steinbrenner's. In an escalating Cold WarÐstyle arms race between the Red Sox and Yankees front offices, acquiring Mr. Schilling was like testing a new bomb on some distant atoll. New York wanted to forge a deal with Arizona for Mr. Schilling, but a feud between the Diamondbacks and Yankees brass hindered that possibility. The Yankees reaction will likely be swift and will probably involve Bartolo Colon, or some other front-line pitcher available through free agency.

The Boss can be ruthless when he's crossed. Mr. Steinbrenner broke up a handshake deal between Arizona and David Wells just months after the Diamondbacks handed the Yankees a World Series defeat. A year later, he outbid Boston for Cuban-born pitcher Jose Contreras after the 2002 season, a move that led Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino to dub the Yankees the "Evil Empire." Just how hard will the Empire strike back this time? And do the Red Sox have the Ronald ReaganÐlike determination to see this Cold War through to the bitter end?

Around the horn

Tampa Bay's loss to Jacksonville on Nov. 30 put the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers at 5-7, virtually eliminating Tampa Bay from the playoffs. If that holds true, neither team from last year's Super Bowl matchup will even make the playoffs. The Raiders were ravaged by injury and age, while the Bucs fell seemingly because of internal strife.

Tommy Tuberville will remain Auburn's football coach after all. The Tigers coach decided to stay on at Auburn, even though the university president and athletic director were discovered to be in clandestine talks with Louisville's Bobby Petrino even before Mr. Tuberville's team played arch-rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl. The secret meetings came out in the press after the Alabama game. Auburn President William Walker admits he put Mr. Tuberville in an awkward position.

Mississippi State's hiring of Green Bay Packers assistant Sylvester Croom as the next Bulldogs coach rids the SEC of an unwanted label: the only major conference never to have hired an African-American head football coach.

Annika Sorenstam's appearance in the Skins Game was no gimmick. The female golf star toasted some male competition, finishing second behind Fred Couples.

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